Talking Diversity and Development in Business: Anne McPherson, NatWest
NatWest's Anne McPherson discusses diversity in business, the impact it has had on her career, the role personal development plays in creating new opportunities for women in business, and how she has developed her career within a large, global organisation.
In Anne McPherson’s job as managing director of NatWest’s Diversity in Business team, she must think strategically about how best to support the diversity that already exists among the bank’s business customers. It’s the perfect role for her: in her 27 years with NatWest, she’s worked in many different departments and with many different types of businesses. To her, diversity isn’t just a ‘nice to have’. “We want to support and encourage more entrepreneurs and help people from all walks of life to start out in business and see business ownership as a viable career option,” she says. “This is good for them and good for the economy.”
You would think that, for a woman with such a strategically important role, Anne would have entered the world of work with a neatly delineated career plan. In fact, it was just the opposite. “I joined NatWest from school because I wanted independence and to earn money,” she says. “I didn’t set out deliberately to find a career.”
As it turns out, the career found her. She started out working in branches in customer-facing roles and eventually moved to the credit office. “This was during the recession in the early 1990s, so that gave me something more intellectually challenging,” she says. “It was probably then that my job turned into a career – when I got recognition for what I was contributing in some quite difficult circumstances."
When asked whether she wishes she had planned things better from the outset, she says: “The way I started hasn’t done me any harm! I’ve achieved quite a lot considering I started out without a master plan. You can probably go either way – it depends on who you are and what opportunities you create and take along the way.”
After spending some time in relationship manager roles, looking after business customers, she moved into leadership roles and took on more people-management responsibilities. “I took responsibility for leading large teams of directors, relationship managers and their support teams and really enjoyed both the P&L responsibility that goes with this and helping people achieve their objectives and career ambitions,” she says. At the end of 2011, she took on her current role.
Perhaps unusually for a woman in a senior position, Anne says she has never really felt disadvantaged by her sex. “It hasn’t been something that’s featured in my thought process,” she says. “Along the way, you need that bit of help from other people and, for me, a lot of those people have been men. Many women would say they do encounter some issues with confidence, and if I’ve ever found myself in that situation, I’ve been hugely supported.”
She’s now the one doing the supporting. In addition to the day job, she acts as a mentor for a number of NatWest employees and small business owners and supports the Prince’s Trust, working with young entrepreneurs and as a member of its Women’s Leadership Group.
NatWest is also refreshing its strategy for women in business, which has similar goals to everywoman. “When I talk to our business customers, they say they find it hard to know where to go to develop themselves, learn new skills and build a network,” she says. “Women in business are underrepresented – we’re 52% of the population but fewer than 20% of business owners. The more we can encourage people and stimulate their confidence, the more they will fulfil that potential and the more the economy will benefit.”
Anne's Top Tips for Women Starting in Business or Developing Their Careers
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